Arroyo Grande police plan to remodel station instead of building new one

Arroyo Grande voters have rejected two efforts to raise millions of dollars to build a new police station, but local officials said the need to update the city’s Police Department hasn’t changed.

However, for financial and other reasons, Arroyo Grande officials are now moving ahead with a plan to remodel the current station on Halcyon Road at a lower cost.

In the meantime, some of the money intended to help fund a new station will instead pay to fill a senior officer position, which has remained frozen since last summer.

Police Chief Steve Annibali said an increase in crime during the first three months of this year as compared to the last three months of 2012 has strained department resources. The new position will allow Annibali to increase the number of detectives in the department to three.

“All we’re doing at this point is handling the high-priority cases,” Annibali told the Arroyo Grande City Council on Tuesday. “And we’re unable to provide the services we want to provide.”

Annibali said the city has seen an increase in assaults, vehicle thefts and robberies, though the exact number of crimes reported wasn’t immediately available. He said that arrests and citations issued by police have risen as well.

“I have to have people respond to the public, and if it means foregoing the (police) building at the time, that’s what we need to do,” he said.

The department currently has 25 sworn officers, down from 27 in 2007. The council unanimously agreed to fund the senior officer job with local sales tax revenue and to revisit the funding method in a year.

Station upgrade

Police officials say the station on North Halcyon Road is rundown and inadequate for the department staff, which has nearly tripled since the police force moved into it in 1973.

City leaders have twice put measures before local voters to raise money for a new station.

Despite efforts to persuade residents of the need, they’ve been unable to garner a two-thirds majority vote to approve funding. The most recent attempt, a $6.7 million bond measure, received only 61 percent of the vote. It would have allowed the city to build a new station at West Branch Street and Old Ranch Road with an expanded dispatch center, an emergency operations center and adequate space to store evidence and house computer equipment.

However, the 5 Cities Community Service Foundation still hopes to build a more than 53,000-square-foot recreation center on the West Branch Street site, and so Arroyo Grande officials have shifted their focus.

The Arroyo Grande City Council agreed Tuesday to spend about $1.4 million to remodel the station, including addressing significant water damage on the south wall of the building.

Council members Caren Ray and Tim Brown voted against a contract for consultant services with IBI Group, which has an office in San Luis Obispo. Ray said she believed the city should have put out a request for proposal for the services, and Brown agreed.

“I wanted to be sure the public perception was such that we weren’t giving preferential treatment to one particular company,” Ray said Friday. She also voted against a conceptual plan for the station for the same reason.

The city also plans to purchase the adjacent property at 270 N. Halycon Road from VCA Animal Hospital for $325,000. The lot may be used to park police and employee vehicles, but the City Council still needs to discuss options for expanding employee parking.